Sunday, July 27, 2008
On June 14th, 2007, I ran this picture of the cow and the dolphin, which always makes me smile. Quite honestly, I'm not sure what this graphic means but I'll link to it. It's the Cattleman's Stress Test.
Have a happy and healthy week!
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I'd like to say, once and for all, "It's not fair for someone who's bipolar to treat a loved one or friend badly and blame the illness for his/her behavior!"
I'm surely not perfect. And there were years when I exhibited behavior (mostly medication- induced) that was symptomatic of bipolarity, and I didn't know it. No matter how many books I read, at the time I didn't find any in which behavior like anger and irritability were considered symptomatic. (There are now books in which this behavior is discussed.)
Had I known earlier about these patterns and symptoms, I would have changed earlier. I didn't know then; I do know now. And I have significantly changed my behavior.
In my case, I use deep breathing to calm down when I find myself getting angry and/or irritable. If I can't stop the behavior with the person involved (unless I believe my anger is justifiable and it's not a symptom of illness), I give myself a "time-out," meaning I explain that I seem to unjustifiably angry and need some space. If I still feel angry (and I'm at home), I play my harmonica or one of my other instruments.
It would be less than honest not to admit that I have lapses of which I'm not proud. We all do, but personally, I'm tired of seeing and/or hearing about "bad behavior" and having people blame it on their bipolarity. It gives bipolarity a bad name, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a real cop-out!
What do you think?
Friday, July 25, 2008
Two days ago on the telephone, when I told my friend about the handyman, my friend felt terrible he had recommended the guy, and asked me to stop talking about it. In a few minutes, he had became agitated, annoyed, and then angry...at me.
If anyone should have been angry, it should have been me, but I wasn't. In fact, the handyman's bid for the job was so low that we can now afford to have someone else paint the rest of our house. And while the handyman left us in the lurch, fortunately my husband and I could complete the work.
Tonight I had plans to meet my friend (his wife--who's been my friend for years--and their daughter) at an outdoor concert. From the moment I greeted my friend, it was obvious he was still angry with me, and was less than friendly.
And this is where my "sensitivity" comes in. His behavior truly hurt my feelings. The fact is that I'd done nothing wrong. I wasn't angry with him for recommending this guy. And I wasn't even angry at the handyman, just confused by his behavior. But what did bother me was my friend's behavior tonight.
In the old days, this would have triggered a depressive episode because my friend truly turned a cold shoulder my way, and his anger was irrational. Moreover, if he was so annoyed with me that he knew he would be unpleasant, I would have preferred he tell me in advance and I wouldn't have attended the concert. If he wanted to explain his irrational anger, he should have responded to my email in which I asked him what was wrong. But instead, he didn't respond and yet made me feel uncomfortable at the event.
So...I handled things in my "new way," which enables me to prevent depressive episodes, and I did the following: 1. Recognizing my friend's lack of friendliness, I stayed away from him. 2. After we ate and listened to music for awhile, I took a walk and interviewed people for a piece I'm writing. 3. Then I left the concert, which was in an outdoor area and took a walk, which allows me to think and relax.
What I realized on the walk was this: 1. I wasn't having fun. 2. I don't enjoy being somewhere with a person who's not being friendly to me. 3. The ball is in his court because I'd already emailed him and he ignored me. 4. I needed to leave and go home. And so I did. 5. I needed to "write" this out of my system, and so I have.
The bad news is that I feel a bit sad, disappointed, and bruised by the encounter. The good news is that I'm not depressed.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
In the introduction to her book, How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy, she writes: "Each of us is born seeking a meaningful life. We have a natural ability to sense what is significant, live in peace, and surround ourselves with love. We come into this world wanting these things and only these things. No baby (that I know of) ever wished for a cooler car seat, hated her thighs, or doubted a mother's love.
"From the moment we arrive, we are instinctively drawn toward warmth, closeness, and acceptance. When the world doesn't provide what we seek we're shocked. The rejection is completely unexpected and we withdraw.
"Once we have met with a negative reception, our initial response to new faces and first-time experiences becomes fear, not love. At this point we have lost touch with reality, not the other way around, because to live in fear is a delusional state. When we are fearful, we simply can't see who or what is in front of us--all we see if our fear, and that is what we react to, plan for, and anticipate.
"Fear can be conquered. We can meet any situation, important or trivial, old or new, surprising or predictable, with self-confidence, gentleness, and elegance. And we don't have to change one thing about ourselves to do so. In fact, we already possess all the courage we'll ever need, and it--not fear--can animate the way we think about ourselves, others, and the world. The ancient practice of meditation can show us how."
Question: What do you think about what Susan Piver has written? Does anyone do meditation or engage in some similar stress reduction or spiritual practice? How has it helped you?
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
But I have also learned that I think it's important to "honor" these emotions for as long as I feel them. I have learned there are people who feel that grieving should be short-lived, and it's better to be "done with it" and move on.
I don't feel that way. Eight months later, I am grieving the death of my mother. And nineteen years later, I am still grieving the death of my father. And sometimes I grieve for my grandparents who died so many years ago.
Perhaps the issue is how we define "grieving." The dictionary defines it as feeling grief or great sorrow. And I think that's fairly accurate. But I believe there is another element, which is feeling great love and loss.
I don't want to "stop" grieving my mother and father because my grieving allows me to remember them, and the loss in my heart represents all the love I feel for them, and the pain is bittersweet.
So, when people tell me to "move on," I don't agree. I can grieve and be fully functional. I can feel loss and go about my day. I can feel pain and sorrow and joy and love.
Am I able to handle all these emotions because of my bipolarity? I have no idea. What do you think?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The result can best be summarized by the following statement by Bill Moyers. "When I read about your study, it just seemed so commonsensical that people who get their feelings in the open, who have the support of loving friends and family, who are able to distract themselves from pain, and who know they're not unique in suffering or alone in dying are going to be happier and more hopeful, and therefore better able to cope with disease."
My question is this: Other than "virtually," have any of you ever been in a bipolar support group that helped you?
Monday, July 21, 2008
I've met most of you from my blog and yours. Do you share my surprise at how much we know about each other from posting, and commenting back and forth? Is it because writing to heal is such a powerful wellness tool?
Do we all have as many people rooting for us "in real life" as are rooting for us through our blogs? How did we deal our stresses, strains, difficulties, and successes before we started blogging?
Do you feel as sustained by these online friendships as I do?
Sunday, July 20, 2008
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month, get married.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help others.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
And in the midst of all this, I went for a mammogram and it was "irregular," so I had a few days of terror before I realized this was the same nodule that was benign more than 25 years. I can't believe I forgot about it, but I didn't realize this nodule was in the same place. Anyway, I had a second mammogram plus a sonogram last week (two days before we had to put Spike down), and there's nothing to worry about.
Still, all of this made me think about my own mortality. I don't know about you, but the few times I've had death scares, I've asked myself, "If I have a limited time to live, am I doing what I want to be doing?"
What was truly great is that for the first time, I could answer, "Yes." For all intents and purposes, I've "cured" myself of this illness. I'm working on my eBook, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out, which they're going to publish as a paperback, and I'm writing a proposal for a new book on wellness. Also, I've posted 394 times since February 2007. Now that's an accomplishment of which I'm very proud indeed.
My son is happy, and he's decided to return to Cal; it's a long story and one I'm not going to tell for privacy reasons, but it's a good decision for him. My husband is happily painting; he's taking a figure drawing class and a plein air painting class, and he's healthy.
With part of my inheritance, we've been able to fix some things on our house, and finally have a bit of financial security (for the first time since I was forced to stop working because the medication was inducing erratic behavior).
Also, I'm playing a lot of music and that makes me very happy. In the fall, I'll be taking a dark room photography class, a music theory class, and singing (again).
And, I have re-established relationships with old friends, and made a host of new friends through this blog! How great is that!
The only thing I need to do is to start talking with people about healing and wellness, but I'm working on that as well.
Every once in awhile, I believe it's important to take stock of my life to ensure that I'm moving in the right direction. I usually don't need a "death scare" to do it, but this time I used my fear to think about my present and my future, and I was delighted by what I found!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
This afternoon, we had to put our beloved dog Spike to sleep. When I checked his birth certificate, I realized he was 16 years old, and had been a member of our family for 14 years. We adopted him soon after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Three years later when I began taking a host of medication, I was sick every single day with so many terrible symptoms, including feeling like I had the flu (all the time), hair loss, weight gain (30 pounds), cognitive memory loss, constipation, diarrhea, and so much more. I felt absolutely terrible, but Spike never left my side. He was truly a loyal friend and remained so throughout his life...and mine.
He was a treasured member of our family, and we will miss him deeply. I know I will always have a special place in my heart for him. Yesterday Rob commented on a post, Pet Therapy, that I'd written about Spike quite some time ago. I think it's a fitting tribute.
P.S. I will resume posting and reading other blogs next Monday.
P.P.S. The photo isn't of Spike, but it looks just like Spike when we adopted him from Friends of Animals Foundation.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Yesterday, Marja asked whether Dr. Jahnke talks about helping others, and he certainly does. In fact he talks about a weekly community-wide healing session where people share their personal practices with others.
He writes: "If each person were to embrace the simple ideals and tools we have explored her, our world would be a dramatically different place. When each person does the small job of taking care of him or herself, the big job of taking care of everyone is automatically complete.
"Some of you will become so enthusiastic about these possibilities for personal and community healing that your activities will overflow into service. As Albert Schweitzer said, 'To work for the common good is the greatest creed.'"
I find Dr. Jahnke's thesis to be a sound one. He provides a lot of very simple exercises that have been proven to be effective for healing. He gives examples of how you can integrate them into your days--by making small changes in your life. For example, you can take a deep breathe when you are sitting at a stoplight. You can massage your scalp vigorously when you shampoo your hair. You can take a daily walk and do the "in-out breathing."
His recommendations are easy to do, and they have been shown to be very effective. Dr. Jahnke believes that each ones of us needs to be responsible for our own health. He thinks it's a disservice to believe that our doctors can heal us without our participation. If we believe we can heal ourselves, and we use the power of our bodies and minds to make it happen, it truly will happen.
That is the path I have already taken, and it is working for me. While it was impossible for me to believe I could heal myself when I was so sick, now that I'm well I know it's true. While my methods and Dr. Jahnke's are slightly different, there are many similarities. For months now, I have been involved with breathing, movement, and meditation (my own variety). Today, I added self-massage to the mix.
Like Dr. Jahnke, I believe it's important to "activate the healer within" many times during the day. For years, I developed wellness activities, but I didn't truly believe that they could make me well. I was always looking for the next drug that might help me or trying to find a doctor who could heal me.
When I finally realized that I needed to depend upon myself, my depressions began to diminish.
When I realized that all my adjunctive wellness activities were the basis for a wellness program, I began feeling well.
What do you do to heal yourself? What are your daily wellness activities? If you're well, to what do you attribute your wellness?
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
So I bought it, and I feel like Dr. Jahnke is a godsend. He writes: "When people learn about the healer within themselves and then take action to care for their own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, they are transformed. Victims of life's problems become independent and empowered creators of better health, greater joy, and positive living. Instead of handing over the power to others, they retain the authority to make their own choices and to participate in an exciting era of change. Self-directed citizens are powerful leaders and role models for their children, grandchildren, and fellow community members."
In a way, Dr. Jahnke is discussing the path I have chosen to take...and the role I hope to play in this virtual community, and in the future with people from all walks of life. In Chapter 1, Jahnke writes: "Your body, in cooperation with your mind and spirit is marvelously blessed with miraculous self-healing abilities. The body is the temple of your mind. Mind and spirit are the dwellers within the temple. Mind and spirit maintain the temple. Mind's intelligence and spirit's inspiration vitalize and quicken the body. The three together--mind, body, and spirit--cooperate to produce the most profound medicine ever known within the history of the human race, right within you."
Jahnke's statement about our ability to heal ourselves is the realization I've come to as well. While I can point to a lot of different wellness activities that I follow, I believe that I am now well because I finally realized that I could become well.
And in a way, I feel blessed that all I had was bipolar disorder (Please don't think I'm minimizing the horror of this illness; realize that I've experienced and survived 120 depressive episodes.) But the bottom line is that it didn't destroy me and I've never had to have surgery to remove a damaged organ, nor do I have a lasting effect from all the toxic medication I've taken.
(to be continued)
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I called everyone I knew and asked, "Who is the best doctor you know?" I didn't care whether the person they recommended was a psychiatrist or not. An acquaintance who has a big job at at a university medical center recommended Dr. H, who was the director of integrative medicine at a major medical center. When I met with Dr. H, she said the following:
"I realize you've thoroughly researched bipolar mood disorder. You've talked about your mood charts in which you've recorded six years of detailed information about your illness. You've been a model patient and I appreciate that. Having said this, I need to ask you a question that I want you to think about. 'What is preventing you from getting well?'"
At the time--and all these years later--I think this is a great question. Because I'm a professional writer, she asked me to make a collage to answer the question. The reason for this was she wanted me to use another part of my brain rather than the thinking and analytical side.
Question: What's preventing you from getting well? Consider making a collage to answer this question. Use photographs, pictures from magazines, or any other materials that will help you express what is holding you back.
If you'd like to, you can email your response as a JPEG file and I'll post them all a week from today. I'm including an email address you can use to send me any files. It's email@example.com. Or, if you'd rather write about it, feel free to leave a comment.
P.S. Jazz commented that she "hates" collages, and this led me to think that it doesn't matter what format you use to express yourself...it would be a poem, a song, a drawing, a list, rubber stamps, a comment, WORDART, or anything else.
Monday, July 7, 2008
But, I decided that I no longer think about myself as bipolar--despite the fact that psychiatry considers this a lifelong illness. I'm still doing all my wellness activities, but they needn't be limited to a bipolar audience. I would recommend them for anyone who wants to stay well. I am still monitoring my "symptoms," but whether a person has diabetes, high blood pressure, or any other condition, they should monitor their symptoms.
What's interesting about bipolarity is that even if a person has one manic or depressive episode, their doctors think they should remain on medication for the rest of their lives. But, I've been off most of the bipolar medication for years; I've been on Adderall (for depression) and Ativan for sleeping when I need it. But I've been off everything for three weeks with the expectation that I don't plan on taking it ever again.
Between my exercise program, my neural path therapy, my music therapy, gardening, and everything else I do for health and wellness, I see no need to ever feel depressed again. Still, I am experiencing some hypomania, but it is mostly under control. And I'm well aware of my "symptoms" and doing the best I can to control them.
Most of all, I'm not embarrassed by the hypomanias any more nor fearful that a depression will start in October or November. I truly believe I'm well. I also believe that bipolarity--if this is truly what I had before medication exacerbated things--can be controlled for some people without medication.
Again, I don't want to debate the merits of medication. It's a personal choice. And it depends upon whether you come to this illness from mania, suicidal thoughts, psychosis or any number of things. But, for me, it was depression. I've solved the problems that caused it. I've figured out ways to eliminate the triggers or deal with them more effectively. I no longer am willing to sustain relationships with toxic people--whether they are related to me or not. And I couldn't be happier!
So, the Bipolar Wellness Writer has evolved into the Wellness Writer--a moniker I feel fits me like a glove at this stage in my life!
P.S. Although Marja and I view bipolarity differently, and she's well but continues to wear the bipolar label with pride, she's written a lovely post--which I highly recommend--about how far she's come...and Gianna has written an exciting post about healing with her holistic doctor, which should give everyone hope...and Jazz has written about her journey with bipolarity... and Annie's written about bird calls, which should put a smile on your face...and Rob has a new blog, and we should support him...and Katie creates wonderful art...and Hanna is so generous about recommending other blogs...and if it's Monday, I read Danielle's post, The Simple Woman's Daybook...and if it's Friday, I read Mariposa's haikus...and if I want to read about New York, I read Howard's Mead on Manhattan (and how great to find that he's written about me)!
Thursday, July 3, 2008
"Susan, I gave this post a lot of thought. I know what your mean about searching for the positive, even in times of sadness. In my experience with others sometimes that can be at a very slow pace and the person may remain sad or mad for some time before being in a place to find the positive. When I have been with someone who has a profound trauma or loss there is value in them having permission to work through those feelings with the faith and guidance that the positive will come in its own time. What do you think Susan? Great post. Peace Annie"
Actually, Annie, the first assignment Dr. James W. Pennebaker gives to college students and writes about in his book Writing to Heal is to write without thinking about words at all. "Remember that this is the first of four days of emotional writing. For today's work, your goal is to write about your deepest thoughts and feelings about the trauma or emotional upheaval that has been influencing your life the most. In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has affected you. For today, it may be beneficial to write about the event itself, how you felt when it was occurring, and how you feel about it now.
"As you write about this event, you might begin to tie it to other parts of your life. For example, how is it related to your childhood and your relationship with your parents and family members? How is it connected to those people you have most loved, feared, or been angry at? How is this upheaval related to your current life? About all, how is this event related to who you were in the past, who you would like to be in the future, and who are are now?
"In today's writing, it is particularly important that you really let go and examine your deepest emotions and thoughts surrounding this upheaval in your life. Remember to write continuously the entire twenty minutes. And never forget that this writing is for you and you alone."
So, I think that the post yesterday--about the importance of positive emotions--was just something that Pennebaker and his research team learned. He believes that dwelling on negative events isn't positive. Over time, that's why he came up with an exercise that take four days--or he recommends that you can write once a week for four weeks.
But, when you're done, he recommends that you move on to other topics. He feels that continuing to dwell on the negative won't make you feel good. However, focusing on the negative for a limited time frame is a critical act of healing.
So, Annie, while it took me years to deal with how angry I was about the treatment I received for this illness, I do see Pennebaker's point. In my case, I used writing to heal as a way to withstand feeling so terribly ill for so long. But, I know people who have had abusive childhoods and it seems that the more they dwell on it, the worse they feel.
You have a much better sense than I do about the value of dealing with this in therapy. But I tend to think that at some point, people have to move on in order to heal. Still, perhaps those readers who have experienced trauma and/or abuse might weigh in with their opinions on this.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
"One of the most surprising findings about expressive writing is that the more people can use positive emotions in their writing, the more they benefit from the exercise. We see positive emotions when words such as love, caring, funny, joy, beautiful, and warmth are used. The degree to which people can use these words even when they are dealing with terrible traumas predicts health improvements after writing.
"Being able to acknowledge positive emotions when dealing with tragic events is related to optimism and benefit-finding. Across an increasing number of studies, people who are able to see the positive side of negative experiences tend to cope better. This is not to say you should be some kind of Pollyanna who pretends everything is wonderful. In fact, if you have tried to do this in the past, you probably have learned that it doesn't work.
"The take-home message from this research is that it is important to acknowledge the bad and look for the good. The degree to which you can do this in your writing is one factor that correlates to improved health."
What do you think about Pennebaker's hypothesis that you feel better when you write about stress and trauma using positive emotions?
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
She wrote: "I believe wholeheartedly in what you said here Susan. They are things I try to help others see as well. But how do you tell someone who you're supporting that she needs to work harder at improving her life? How do you tell her that without coming across as judgmental? And how do you know whether she's simply not able to work harder at it than she is? How do you keep encouraging a person to do better? How much should I stand by her and how much should I back off?
I'm not one to turn my back on a person who is suffering and needs support. I've spent hours with this person in the ER. And I feel one day we're going to lose her altogether."
Marja, I don't believe that any of us can "save" other people. I do believe we can reach out to help them. I think it's great to volunteer to take someone to a psychiatrist's visit or to see a counselor. I think it's helpful to let them know we care about them and are available to talk. I think it's important to recommend books, blogs, mental health associations (in this case) or other resources that might be helpful. And I think it's wonderful if we can offer to take a walk with someone, pray with her, listen to her, or offer her succor and solace during difficult periods.
But, I don't believe we can make someone want to live. I don't believe we can or should shoulder the lion's share of responsibility that should be hers. I don't know anything about co-dependency, and maybe some of my readers do. But I believe people truly have to participate in their own healing, and want wellness for themselves.
In my own experience there are givers and takers. And I've known takers that continue taking until I have nothing left to offer, and am so exhausted that I feel ill. In the past, I was willing to help them when I was hypomanic, but had to drop them when I was depressed. I no longer have people like that in my life (unless they're related to me). But even then, I set limits.
So, I guess my answer is that I believe the woman you're talking about needs to find professional help. And she needs to "step up to the plate" so to speak. If you continue to allow her to "take" from you, you'll have nothing left. And if she decides that life isn't living, ultimately that's her decision.